Page last updated at 06:21 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 07:21 UK

Wood homes 'solution' to shortage

Iolo ap Dafydd
BBC Wales sustainability correspondent


A new sustainable housing development on Angelsey

Fewer new houses are being built in Wales than at any time since World War II, according to the Home Builders Federation.

But on Anglesey an unusual housing development is shaping up that may provide a solution - and it's timber-framed.

Dan-wood, originally a Danish company, has been building timber-framed houses all over northern Europe for 45 years.

But the concept is new to Wales, where 99% of housing is bricks and mortar.

At the Pentre Berw site on the island, whole walls made of wood containing windows and doors and which are heavily insulated are lifted by crane before being slotted and bolted into place on a concrete slab.

Ynys Mon Developments is building 10 of these houses. Two of these are semi-detached units which will be sold as affordable homes.

One of the developers is Francis Parody-Candea, who said it took about eight weeks to complete a timber-framed house, with flooring, carpeting and painting all included in the construction price.

This was in comparison to the four months it took to build a brick and mortar house.

All the timber panels are trucked from a factory in Eastern Poland, before being assembled on Anglesey.

So are these timber-framed constructions cheaper than the traditional brick houses favoured by most construction firms in Britain?

"You'd be looking in the region of 150,000 to 160,000 based on current market value," said Mr Parody-Candea of his newly-built homes.

"These houses are sustainable. They are super-insulated, there are very low-running costs once they are completed and a very low construction cost as well."

North Wales based housing association Cymdeithas Tai Eryri is meeting the developer early next month to see if this could be one answer to a shortage of affordable housing, as well as providing a more environmentally-friendly solution.

Chris Stadden, Anglesey Council's building regulations official, was impressed with the development.

"I would think they'll certainly appeal and we'll see more of them because of the pressure for more housing stock and the speed they are built on site," he said.

The Welsh Assembly Government has set a target of building 6,500 affordable homes over four years. It also has green aspirations for carbon-free new builds after 2011.

They are certainly needed as Wales' population is expected to cross the 3m mark soon, and an estimated 186,000 more households will be in the country by 2021.

But last year, just over 9,000 new homes were built and it is very unlikely that enough new houses - green, affordable or near the workplace - will be available any time soon.

Richard Price, of the Home Builders Federation, criticised timber-framed houses and called on the assembly government to work more closely with the development industry to find housing solutions.

Part of a timber frame house being winched into place
The timber panels are trucked in from Poland before being assembled

"They (timber-framed houses) are not always a cheaper alternative in terms of housing provision," he said.

"I believe instead of pushing for radical alternatives, the Welsh Assembly Government should be working more closely with the development industry in order to ensure any targets or aspirations they set can be met.

"Without a major commitment from the assembly government to increase the supply of housing overall, we will continue to struggle to increase the supply of housing in Wales."

But a few miles from the timber development on Anglesey, Nigel Marland from WM Design Partnership, an architect firm in Menai Bridge, said the time for a radical rethink on Wales' housing needs was right, even if they had to be imported from Poland.

"These (timber-framed houses) are more economically viable to construct, and probably to maintain, so they're going to be easier for private developers, housing associations and local authorities alike to build them," he said.

"So I'd imagine if they were to take up this system, or a similar system, we should be able to build quicker."

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